Since I first became a Buckeye in 2004 there has always been rumblings about Jim Tressel's job following a loss—from that Justin Zwick led defeat at Northwestern to last Saturday's defeat at the hands of the Trojans.
Ohio State fans are passionate, committed to victory, and still hold the rule of hot tempered of Woody Hayes as the golden age of Ohio State football. Spitting, snarling, and screaming along the sidelines, Woody Hayes seemed to be a college rendition of win-at-all-costs Vince Lombardi.
Jim Tressel by comparison is stoic and composed, and to some, frustratingly dispassionate in the face of defeat. His is an utterly conservative approach to games with a reliance on special teams and defense over high flying offenses and shootouts.
The calls for Jim Tressel's job have gotten louder and louder with each loss but each Saturday the sweater vest remains on the side lines.
First and foremost, Jim Tressel wins conference titles. Undefeated seasons are a rarity in any sport and college football is no exception. As talent has spread out among the BCS conferences and beyond, undefeated seasons are becoming rarer and rarer.
The last BCS conference team to finish undefeated is the 2005 Texas Longhorns, and since then the undefeated teams have hailed from shallower, non-BCS conferences. In the past three seasons we have seen two, one loss Florida teams and one, two loss LSU team win the national title.
With the wealth of one loss teams and the fickle nature of the rankings, the only way to ensure a BCS bid and a shot at the national title is to win your conference, something Tressel has at least won a share of in the last four seasons.
Tressel wins games with a stunning consistency and is 84-20 at Ohio State. With this consistent flow of victories and Conference titles has been a constant flow of recruits. The first tier of football recruiting states are easily Florida, Texas, and California. These states by far produce the largest number of talented players.
But first among the next tier of football states would be Ohio, which turns out pro-caliber players at an impressive rate and Tressel has put a fence around Ohio that Woody Hayes himself would be proud of.
The Ohio State domination of the Big Ten under Hayes was largely due to his hoarding of the Ohio talent pool. This pool is one that former Buckeye coach Bo Schembechler was able to tap into, resulting in a resurgence in Michigan football and sparking the epic rivalry that lasts to this day. After Hayes left, Ohio became the talent pool for the entire Northern-Midwest as the recruits spread themselves out among the Big 10.
Jim Tressel has fenced in the Ohio talent, claiming the cream of it for his own, and then only allowing those he chooses not to bring to the Buckeyes to escape the state. Make no mistake, the decline of Michigan and really the entire Big 10 since the arrival of Jim Tressel at Ohio State is due to the closing of the Ohio pipeline of players anywhere but OSU.
Not only has Jim Tressel kept the homegrown talent, he has opened up new lands for the Buckeyes, drawing talent from the Southwest and Florida. Two disappointing recruiting classes (2004 and 2005) caused some problems for Ohio State and the past two seasons have seen Tressel stock the Buckeye shelves with an unprecedented level of that is just starting to see its first real playing time.
The 2009 Ohio State Buckeyes were not national title contenders coming into the season—they are a young, talented team, trying to find themselves on both sides of the ball in order to prepare for a championship window that will open in the next two seasons.
The big game woes of the Buckeyes in recent years are in large part because the talent on defense was never replaced when the 2005 class of players left for the NFL. That epic defense lead by A.J. Hawk was the most talented defense Jim Tressel has had and no replacements for that class have been at the level of that defense.
Even with all the strife, Jim Tressel remains 8-6 against Top 10 teams, 27-11 against ranked teams, and has won a National Title. Clearly his big game moxy isn't all gone, I would rather assert that Ohio State has not been a top five team since the 2006 season.
'Big Games' are by definition big because it is against teams of equal or greater talent and as a result even the finest coaches end up with close to a .500 record in 'Big Games'.
Ohio State fans would do well to remember that the legendary Woody Hayes was 4-3 in Rose Bowls, and 5-5 in bowl games overall at Ohio State.
Firing Jim Tressel at this point would be an awful gamble for Ohio State. Without an outstanding coach lined up to replace him and take advantage of the talent on hand, even the future level of recruiting would be a concern.
Would Ohio State end up like Notre Dame with Charlie Weis with two outstanding seasons because of stocked talent and then sharp decline because of a lack of recruiting? Have a lost season much like Michigan did last year and then be faced with an uncertain future, with a coach many already would like to see gone? While the easy option, firing a coach in the middle of a college football has long lasting ramifications.
In college, unlike the NFL, the players leave quickly and the only constant is the coaches.
In the NFL when a coach is fired, a team remains the same core of players, but in college when a coach is fired the team losses its identity and perhaps its future.